Nittany Lions falter against Bison, 90-80

UNIVERSITY PARK – Steven Kaspar slightly turned his body to his right as he was leaving the Bryce Jordan Center floor and recognized the contingent of Bucknell fans that were seated behind the Bison bench with a series of claps high above his head.

Deservedly so, the Bucknell faithful returned the favor. In between Kaspar and those fans, a disappointed Penn State team lined up shoulder-to-shoulder across the floor in front of the pep band that was preparing to play the school’s alma mater. Maybe the Lions could have used a similar wall to slow the Bucknell junior.

Kaspar set a new career high in points for the second consecutive game and the Bison defeated Penn State on Wednesday night, 90-80.

“It definitely feels good to take down a Big Ten team,” Kaspar said. “It’s awesome.”

Kaspar, who established a career high with 12 points in Bucknell’s season-opening loss at Stanford, more than doubled that output against the Nittany Lions, finishing with a game-high 25 points on 9 of 13 shooting. The 6-foot-3 guard who averaged only 2.3 and 2.4 points a game his freshman and sophomore seasons, has scored 37 through two games this year.

“Kaspar was nothing short of tremendous,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said, “not with just scoring the ball, but assisting, too.”

The win was Bucknell’s first in State College since 1968 and its first over the Nittany Lions since 1976. Penn State had won the last 12 games in the series, including 60-57 last year. The Nittany Lions were 10-0 against Bucknell at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Penn State (1-1) had no answer on slowing Kaspar’s penetration into the lane. On the few occasions the Lions kept him out of the paint, Kaspar found open teammates for clean looks.

Kaspar finished with four assists, one block and two steals. While the one block two steals don’t stand on their own, when they occurred were big for the Bison (1-1), who were predicted to finish fourth in the preseason Patriot League poll. His block led directly to his own layup and so did his steal on top of the Penn State offensive set. The block and layup happened when the Bison were slowly pulling away from the Lions after the teams traded punches for the game’s first 30 minutes and the steal and layup gave Bucknell a 10-point lead when the Nittany Lions were feverishly trying to claw back into the game.

The Bison had runs of seven and nine points in the second half, but each of those were answered by Penn State, which is scheduled to visit Sojka Pavilion next year. The Nittany Lions, though, couldn’t recover from a third Bucknell spurt – this one a 12-point run that turned a one-point deficit into a 71-60 lead. Penn State did close to two possessions on several occasions over the final few minutes, but the Bison never wavered and Kaspar, a career 41 percent foul shooter, knocked down three consecutive free throws during one stretch late in the game.

“I know this sounds crazy, but I like playing Bucknell,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Bucknell will get us ready for the Big Ten.”

How ready the Lions will be for that will be debated, but Penn State has 11 games left before opening conference play at home against a Michigan State team that just beat the top-ranked team in the nation.

The Kaspar steal that turned into two of his 25 points gave Bucknell an 80-70 lead with 2:23 left and six more Bison free throws and a Dom Hoffman layup were enough to secure the historical win which also gave Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen his 100th Bucknell victory.

“I’m really happy for coach,” Kaspar said. “He’s a great coach and he’ll have plenty of more wins to come.”

Bucknell, which lost three 1,000-point scorers to graduation, had little trouble scoring against the Nittany Lions. Penn State surrendered 90 points for the first time since allowing 94 to Indiana in 2007. It was Bucknell’s first time scoring 90 since Feb. 11, 2012.

“I was having flashbacks to Indiana two years ago, where everything they put up was going in,” Chambers said. “Anytime Penn State basketball scores 80 points, we should win the game.”

The Bison shot 61 percent, including 67 percent from 3-point range (10 of 15). Ben Brackney his four first-half 3-pointers and Cameron Ayers four in the second half and five total. Brackney finished with 16 points and Ayers 19. Brian Fitzpatrick gave the Bison a post presence and added 13 points and six rebounds an area the Bison won, 28-25.

“I’m pleased,” Paulsen said about how his team has adjusted this season after the losses of Mike Muscala, Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman. “I’m not necessarily surprised.

“We haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t seen that on a consistent basis in practice and that is usually the best indicator. I have seen flashes of it.”

Penn State received good balance, too. D.J. Newbill had 18 points. Brandon Taylor and Travis Ross scored 17 each – new career highs for both – and Tim Frazier 13. Frazier, a graduate student who missed nearly all of last season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, played only 27 minutes because of foul trouble. He did finish 6 of 11 from the field, but Paulsen credited Ryan Frazier for a fine job defensively. Ryan Frazier, who came off the bench in the season opener at Stanford, started against the Nittany Lions in order to attempt to slow PSU’s Tim Frazier, who scored 25 points in his first game back.

“Obviously, it’s a very gratifying win,” Paulsen said. “I felt our guys showed a lot of resilience and toughness in the second half.”